Racial Pain in America: Why People of Color View Injustice Differently Than American Caucasians – by Alice Patterson

BRPD - Front Cover - 2012.10.12The article below is adapted from chapters one and two of the book Bridging the Racial and Political Divide by Alice Patterson. I had the privilege to work with Alice on this book, which contains seasoned insights about the root of our present racial and political situation—and what to do about it.

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I don’t remember how I found out. I just grew up knowing it. Papa, Dad’s father, had once joined the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the early 1900s in Oklahoma. The family moved to Texas in 1924 when my father was six years old and Papa’s Klan activity ceased. I thought the KKK was something like a volunteer sheriff’s posse—a citizen group that helped to enforce the law.

That’s a genuine case of whitewash, but it’s really what I thought. I didn’t ask questions.

I can’t explain how I could live my teenage years during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s without being affected by it, but I did. Now I’m saddened by the thought. But at that time I was ignorant and in my little White world in Earth, Texas, population 1,087 with less than 30 Black folk.

I remember the time I went inside the Colored school to deliver a note to the teachers. The Colored school was a small white stucco building among four large brick modern structures for White students. There were less than fifteen students— most of them were elementary school age. I knew that Black kids were in the separate, inferior school, but I didn’t ask why. I didn’t question the way things were.

I didn’t watch the news on television or read national newspapers. I know it sounds impossible, but I lived through my high school years without realizing that there was a struggle going on among Black folk for basic human rights. In 1970 after I was married, I remember seeing a Black guy in a red bandana with his fist in the air during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at a college football game. I was shocked, but I was not compelled to find out why he was angry at our nation.

The Race Question

The race question didn’t surface in my life until 1991. As Field Director of Texas Christian Coalition (TXCC), I traveled to the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost part of Texas on the border between the United States and Mexico. The Rio Grande Valley is 80 to 95 percent Hispanic. However, Hispanics, who are pro-life and family-oriented, were absent from Christian Coalition, a mostly White organization. I prayed, Lord, how do I reach Hispanics?

Three years later I attended a seminar and met a man I could ask about connecting with Hispanics. José Gonzalez, a leader in one of the government breakout sessions, taught political science and mentored future Latin American political leaders at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

“José, how do I reach Hispanics?” José began to talk about the Alamo—the mission in San Antonio where Texans fought the battle for independence against the advancing Mexican army in 1836. I’m thinking, I didn’t ask for a history lesson. I want to know how to reach Hispanics.

Corporate Pain

José introduced me to corporate pain—the concept that an entire ethnic group can be wounded. Not only is it possible for whole people groups to be wounded, but they can and do pass their pain down from one generation to another. José’s point wasn’t whether the battle of the Alamo was either good or bad. His point was this: Mexican citizens and Texans may view the same historical event through different colored glasses. One sees it as a victory and reason to celebrate. The other sees it as a source of broken covenant, pain, anger and theft of their property.

This is not a Hispanic issue only. There were Hispanics called Tejanos fighting for independence inside the Alamo. And Hispanics—the Mexican army—were fighting for Mexican sovereignty outside the Alamo. So modern-day Hispanics can either celebrate or grieve. It’s all about perspective—which glasses you wear to view a historical event.

Example of Corporate Pain

One of the greatest differences in People of Color and Whites is whether we think corporately or individually. Ed Silvoso, founder of the International Transformation Network and a mentor to me, teaches that Whites are the only ethnic group in America that does not have a corporate identity.

If you’re White, you most likely see life through individual glasses. You make decisions based on yourself, your family, your business, your church and your personal self-interests. Even White evangelical theology is vertical Christianity. It’s mostly about youyour personal relationship with the Lord, your personal growth and your personal holiness.

If you’re a Person of Color, you most likely see life through corporate glasses. Everyone in your people group is connected as family. You understand community. That explains the pain Black folk experienced while watching news reports of Black American Rodney King, who was beaten by four White police officers in Los Angeles in 1991.

When Whites saw the Rodney King beating on television, they thought, King had been drinking. He was resisting arrest. Yes, there was too much force. The police didn’t need to kick and club the man. But when they turned off the television, they could forget it. It didn’t personally affect them.

Not so with Black folk who viewed this news coverage or coverage of other white on black injustice since then. They saw the White establishment wrongfully beating a member of their own family. The beating plus the ruling of the jury to let the four officers go free touched a deep wound. Corporate outrage and corporate violence erupted.

If you’re Black, you may think Whites could forget about it because Rodney King was Black. If it had been a White guy who was beaten by four Black police officers, Whites would have erupted. Not so. There is no connection between most White people outside their immediate family. The perception by Whites would have been the same. And nothing would have happened corporately.

Understanding, Repentance and Forgiveness

As José expounded on the Alamo, instantly my grandfather’s Klan involvement came to mind. Conviction slammed into my spirit, and I knew I had to repent. The weight of Papa’s sin, as well as my own insensitivity to the pain of others—particularly Black and Hispanic Americans, sat like a concrete block on my chest.

I telephoned my boss and Chairman of TXCC to share with him the incredible revelation José shared. Together we must repent for the sin of racism. It was urgent. We had to ask the Lord to forgive our own sins, as well as the sins of my grandfather and other White Christians. My boss lived in the Dallas area so he drove over to the hotel. Then the five leaders of the TXCC along with José huddled together in the hotel lobby as we repented individually and corporately for our sins. We repented for not understanding and for not trying to understand. We asked forgiveness for our insensitivity— for living lives untouched by the pain of others. I repented for Papa and for millions of White Americans like him who see themselves as superior.

I can’t begin to describe the emotions flooding my mind and heart as we knelt together in the presence of the Lord. This was the culmination of a four-year prayer to understand how to reach Hispanics. But it was much more. It was the beginning of my journey into the area of race in America. It was the crushing truth that my grandfather had a part in the generational pain still troubling Black Americans and other People of Color in our nation. It began my journey into the racial divide in this nation. At the beginning, it was just with Hispanics, but later my focus became Black Americans. I had misjudged Blacks, as you will see later in this book. But the gate into ethnic America had been unlocked. God was opening my eyes and my heart to America’s wounds, and I would never be the same.

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About the Author

Alice New PicAlice Patterson, founder and president of Justice at the Gate in San Antonio, Texas, is dedicated to empowering believers through reconciliation and education in God’s presence to impact our nation through prayer and through the power of the ballot. Alice has been involved in the civic arena since 1984 as President of Permian Basin Eagle Forum, Field Director for Texas Christian Coalition and in various political campaigns. In 1996 she founded Pray Texas to encourage pastors to pray and work together for community transformation. She served as the Texas Coordinator for the United States Strategic Prayer Network for 6 years and served on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission State Advisory Committee for 10 years.

Alice has been described as a “divine connector.” She brings pastors and leaders together across denominational, racial and social lines. As the granddaughter of a Ku Klux Klan member, Alice has publicly repented for overt and unconscious racism in the white community. She is working to undo the harm done by her grandfather and others like him. Alice serves as a bridge between Christians of various cultures as well as between the church and the civic arena.

She convened a group of Hispanic leaders to pray and strategize together to form a national Hispanic organization, which led to a meeting of over 700 Hispanic pastors and spouses in Austin with the Governor of Texas. She hosted a summit of 300 African American Pastors and Leaders to meet with the Governor and other elected officials about the plight of Black children in inner city schools. Alice’s heart is to train pastors and leaders in various ethnic communities about how to access governmental power by taking a seat at the decision-making table regardless of political party.

Connect with Alice at www.justiceatthegate.org.

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